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CULTURAL FORUM:
HISTORY AND FOLK-SONGS

by Nicholas S. Balamaci

Though folk-songs are sometimes used as sources of historical information, they are not always reliable and should be balanced by some other historical information about the period they deal with.

This poses a problem for us, in that we Arumanians do not have much of a written historical record in comparison with other peoples. We must therefore rely on other types of historical records more heavily--such as traditions, clothing, language, archaeology, dance, foods, and even songs--in order to make some sense of our past. But still we should use whatever is available from the written historical record in order to help us interpret these other records more accurately.

As an example of how this might be done we can take three fairly well-known Arumanian folk-songs from three different times and places and try to locate them within their contexts.

1. A Farsharot Song

Voi Rumani di aua shi aclo You Rumani from far and wide
Nu avdzatsi tsi s-fatsi Don't you hear what is happening Armiro? In Almyros?
Armiro nu avdzatsi tsi s-    In Almyros don't you know what's
fatsi? doing?
Sh-isusescu Rumanilli Our men are getting engaged to
Greatsi. Greek women.
Kiru Rumanamea ntreaga Our entire people has lost out
Ta s-loatsi voi una nveasta So that you might take a Greek
Greaca? bride?
Shi tine, lai Pleasa marata, And you, poor, sad Pleasa,
Nu si-afla una laie feata? Can't even one girl be found?
Nu si-afla una laie feata Can't even one girl be found
Ta si lli datsi alu Nisi For you to give to Nisi as a
nveasta? bride?
Lai Nisi, si-tsa ncllida And you Nisi, they should shut you
dera, out,
Va-tsa greasca hilliu Your son will be calling you
"patera"! "patera"!
Ma loai una di isnafe You might have taken one of our own
Ta si-tsa greasca feata So that your daughter would call
"tate." you "tate."

[Note: "patera" and "tate" mean "father" in Greek and Arumanian, respectively.]

For perhaps several hundred years, the nomadic Farsharotsi from the area of Pleasa-Korche-Dishnitsa had migrated to winter pastures in Thessaly, especially around Almyros, Volos, and Tyrnavos. This worked out as long as both areas were within the Ottoman Empire; in 1881, however, Thessaly was ceded to Greece by the Turks, despite serious protests by Arumanians from all parts. The new Turco-Greek border hampered the freedom of these people to migrate, and some of them decided to settle year-round in Thessaly and began to take Greek wives. Thus, this song can probably be dated to this period, about 1881.

2. A Song from Verria

Aide lo padurea frandza s-da One spring, deep in the woods
Cuclu nu s-avdza iuva Not a cuckoo to be heard anywhere
Nitsi cuc nitsi cupii Not a cuckoo nor a flock
Nitsi picurar s-aurla Nor a shepherd to shout
Nitsi oaie tra s-asgheara Nor a sheep to bleat
Nitsi cani tra s-alatra. Nor a dog to bark.
America, s-nu erai aflata! America, I wish you had never been discovered!
America cu trenuri multi, America, with your many trains,
Iu sunt cupiili ditu munti? Where are our mountain flocks?

This song obviously dates from the massive migration to the United States starting just after the turn of this century. The Ottomans' Balkan lands were in turmoil then, the years 1897-1918 witnessing almost continuous anarchy and war (both undeclared and declared). Economic, social, and political prospects seemed bleak to many, and some decided that the trauma of emigration to America was worth the chance it gave them to move into a better situation. Thousands of Arumanians came over, usually settling in the factory towns and cities of the Northeast (Bridgeport, Woonsocket, Worcester, New York) and Midwest (Detroit, St. Louis). The Society Farsarotul was founded in 1903 by Nicola Cican largely in order to help these people make the often painful transition to a completely new world. This song most likely dates from the period of heaviest emigration, 1900-1920.

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A rare photo of the founder of the Society Farsarotul,
taken shortly before his death in World War I.

3. A Song from Migideia

Migidei vruta, Beloved Migidei,
Tsi erai una haraua, You were once a joy,
Le, le, le, le, lai dunia! Poor, unlucky people!
Patrudzatsi ni a- 1940, for me,
Spune, moi, multu urata, Holds much disaster,
Le, le, le, le, lai dunia! Poor, unlucky people!
Aeroplani multi, Many airplanes,
Soarli l'anvilira, They blocked out the sun,
Le, le, le, le, lai dunia! Poor, unlucky people!
[...] [...]
Na vini Italianlu The Italians came,
Ma napoi shi Ghermanlu And after that the Germans,
Le, le, le, le, lai dunia! Poor, unlucky people!
Horli na li-asparsi, They broke up our villages,
Pazarli na li-arsi, They burned our marketplaces,
Le, le, le, le, lai dunia! Poor, unlucky people!

The Italians attacked Greece in October of 1940, and despite the fact that the invaders outnumbered the Greeks in men and weapons, the Greek army heroically pushed them back into Albania by November, humiliating the Axis Powers and inspiring the rest of the world in those dark hours. Hitler was forced to invade Greece with German troops and aircraft in April of 1941 in order to salvage the operation. The Germans were particularly fond of the tactic of burning mountain villages, which obviously hit our mountain-based population particularly hard. Many of these villages did not recover until the 1970s; fortunately, the shepherds kept returning to them and gradually more and more people went along--the mountains seem to hold a strong attraction for us. This particular song provides its own date; this is rare.

We might make one further observation: Songs seem to be (amongst many other things) one way of dealing with or responding to stressful or threatening situations. All three songs reflect aperceived threat to a village, a cultural group, or even a way of life, but nevertheless, each song carries with it also a small victory: People survived to tell the tale. As long as we hear new songs, then, even if they record a threat to the old way of life, the culture continues; it is only when those songs stop coming that the culture truly faces its demise.


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